Sekiro’s Isshin, the Sword Saint is the final boss you’ll fight in the game. It’s a long fight — so much so that we’re going to break the three Deathblows (phases) into three guides.
The worst mistake you can make in Sekiro is attacking without a plan. Bosses are happy to disrupt your attacks and cause major damage. In this guide, we’ll show you how to defeat Isshin with the most effective Shinobi Prosthetic, items you should bring with you, and strategies for reacting to his attacks in all three phases.
The best Prosthetic Tools, items, and skills for Isshin, the Sword Saint
There are always items and attacks that work well against Sekiro bosses. These are our recommendations for the best items to bring to your fight with Isshin, the Sword Saint.
- Shinobi Firecracker. We have recommended this Prosthetic Tool for nearly every boss fight in the game, and this one is no different. Using the Shinobi Firecracker will let you interrupt Isshin’s most dangerous attacks. You can use any of the upgrades you’d like, but we’d recommend against using the Purple Fume Spark — the final upgrade to this tool. You need to be quick when you use it and the delay of the Purple Fume Spark will hurt you.
And that’s it, actually. The first phase of this fight is manageable without getting too fancy.
If you’re having trouble, feel free to pop a Gokan’s Sugar to give yourself some breathing room on your Posture gauge.
Isshin, the Sword Saint Phase 1
Isshin is fast and brutally strong. His attacks will cut through your Posture fast and your Vitality faster. And you won’t be able to interrupt his attacks just by swinging your sword.
Your first priority in this fight is to learn avoid his attacks. That might sound like silly advice, but finding ways to not get hit — even if you’re blocking or Deflecting — is more important than ever with Isshin and his devastating attacks.
Your second priority is get comfortable with Deflecting. Just like Genichiro before him, you can drive up Isshin’s Posture quickly with some well-timed Deflects. The trick is to know when to Deflect and when to just get out of the way. First, we’ll talk about his attacks, then we’ll talk about offense, and then we’ll show you how to bring them both together.
Isshin, the Sword Saint’s attacks
Let’s talk about the Sword Saint’s attacks, how to identify them, and what you should do about them. One of your biggest challenges in this fight is dealing with the sheer number of different attacks Isshin has. And he’ll throw most of them at you during this fight.
The most basic move Isshin has is just a sprint straight at you followed by an attack or three. (He’ll usually do this just as you take a swig from your Healing Gourd.) You’ll have enough time to block as he approaches and even Deflect (if you’re feeling confident).
Loop right plus three
This is Isshin’s most obvious attack, and he’ll do it often. It usually starts from a middle distance. Isshin will run to your right, then close the gap and slash at you three times. His attacks always follow the same pattern: down, up, then down.
These hits pack a punch, but you can absorb all three if you’re blocking.
Better yet, Step Dodge to the left between the second and the third swing to sneak in a Dodge Counterattack for some extra damage.
We’re describing this move as three lazy swings. That’s not to say that you can ignore or even easily dodge them. We call them lazy because he looks so deceptively casual while he does them.
These three attacks work a lot like the looping three above. Block or (try to) Deflect the first two attacks, then Step Dodge to the left before the third.
Right step, Perilous thrust
Isshin’s next attack is extremely dangerous, but also really useful. He’ll start by taking three steps to your right, then follow that up with a thrust Perilous Attack. Those three steps give you plenty of time to prepare to Mikiri Counter the thrust.
This attack is simple, and Isshin usually uses it as a setup for another attack. There’s not much to do in response, but it’s worth learning to recognize. He’ll hold his sword out to his right (your left) with a bit of a step, then dash to your right with a big slash.
You can block, Deflect, or avoid this attack, and then prepare for whatever comes next.
Isshin will usually use this attack when you’re too close for too long. It’s a simple enough two-swing combo that you can block easily.
We’re including it here, though, because you can turn this attack to your advantage. If you Deflect the first of these two swings and follow it with a swing, you’ll interrupt the attack. Many times, Isshin will follow the interruption with another two-swing attack letting you trap him in a brief loop while racking up a lot of Posture damage quickly.
Isshin has an Ichimonji attack just like Sekiro does. It’s got a huge wave of energy that comes off the front, and he can often turn it into a Double Ichimonji.
Whenever you see him raise his sword above his head with both hands, get ready to dodge — we prefer left here, but direction doesn’t really matter. Your only goal should be to get behind him. After the first dodge, dodge again. Try to keep circling if you can, but you’re mostly just making sure you’re out of the way of any followup swings.
He pauses for long time after this attack, so you have a second to close any distance you created and land a hit or two.
Sheathed Ashina Cross
Isshin has a move that is mostly identical to Sekiro’s Ashina Cross. He’ll sheath his sword, pause, then attack. Much like the Ashina Elite from early in the game, there’s a glint of light at his scabbard. This time, though, there are two glints just before he attacks.
You have a few options:
- Run away. Isshin can cover a shocking amount of ground with this attack, but you can get away if you run.
- Dodge. Wait for a moment after the first glint, then start dodging. It’s possible to dodge only once if you’re really close to Isshin, but we prefer dodging twice to be safe(r). You’ll end up behind him with time to land a couple attacks before he recovers.
- Block. It’ll take a huge chunk off your Vitality and damage your Posture, but it’s (mostly) survivable. This should be your last option, though.
Sheathed Perilous sweep
This attack starts out the same as the Ashina Cross, with Isshin’s sword sheathed. Instead of spotting a glint, though, you’ll get the Perilous Attack red kanji over Sekiro’s head.
As soon as you see that kanji, you can react to the Perilous Swing normally — by jumping. If you’re already dodging, you can probably keep dodging to stay out of the way, but the timing is tough — he’ll home in on you much more than you’d probably expect.
Don’t worry too much about landing a Jump Kick here. It’s hard to time when you’re already sprinting and dodging for your life. Just focus on jumping over the sweep — if you land a Jump Kick, that’s great, but it shouldn’t be your priority.
Overhand wind wall
Isshin will draw back a little and start drawing in wind(?) to charge up an attack. He’s got two attacks this way and it’s really hard to differentiate them.
In this attack, he’ll follow his charging by unleashing two waves of wind. Luckily, they both follow the same line.
If you’re close to him, you can dodge past to end up behind him. You have a great chance to land a few free hits here.
The problem is if he uses his spiral attack (below) instead — it’s possible to dodge through it, but the timing is much, much more difficult.
If you’ve got a little distance, you can just run left or right to avoid the wall. We prefer this, since it means you’re already running and can get away in the cases were he does the spiral attack instead.
Better yet, as we’ll discuss further below, dodge toward him as soon as you see him gathering wind, and hit him with some Shinobi Firecrackers. This will stop the attack completely, meaning it doesn’t matter what he was going to follow up with.
Wind spiral (area attack)
Instead of the wind walls above, sometimes Isshin turns that wind energy into a brutal spiraling area attack.
It’s possible to dodge through the attack if you’re close enough. It’s tempting, but the timing is extremely difficult. That’s why we recommended running away.
This attack is why we recommend bringing Shinobi Firecrackers to this fight. Being able to interrupt this attack and prevent it from happening in the first place means you can focus on more important, less deadly things.
Most of this fight is about responding to Isshin, the Sword Saint’s attacks, but we should also point out what to do when you’re on offense.
The Shinobi Firecracker lets you interrupt his two wind-based attacks, the sheathed Perilous sweep, and his Ashina Cross. There are other ways to avoid these attacks, but it’s better to just not let them happen in the first place.
You don’t want to use your firecrackers — and those precious Spirit Emblems — haphazardly in this phase of the fight — you’ve got two more phases to go, after all. Instead, save your Shinobi Firecrackers for his most obnoxious attacks.
We mentioned this above, but we cannot stress it enough. Any time Isshin pauses his onslaught and stands, get in close and take a swing. He’ll block your first attack easily and then follow up with one of his own. The attack starts on your right and comes across his body — which makes it easy to spot and time. Deflect this attack, then attack again right after. He’ll block, then the cycle repeats.
Just keep doing this until he doesn’t want to play any more and moves off, or you break his Posture.
Bringing defense and offense together
This video shows the entire first phase of this fight in just under 40 seconds. We’ve had a lot of painful practice with this fight, mind you, but it shows all of our advice in practice.
The focus is on Deflecting the attacks we can and interrupting the attacks we can’t. We stay close to Isshin both to use firecrackers to stop his deadlier attacks, but also to bait him into the Deflect loop that we use to end the phase.